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Struggle Street … Poverty Porn?


“There are a lot of people who come from Mount Druitt who end up becoming really successful mate”, says a scruffy local in the opening moments of Struggle Street, the three-hour observational documentary series that aired on SBS in May 2015. The viewer did not meet these people nor did we enter their homes. Instead, guided by a clichéridden narration provided by actor David Field at his most over-the-top laconic, we met a purposefully selected group of public housing tenants whose lives epitomise the problems that disproportionately plague Australia’s underclass: welfare dependence, unemployment, drug addiction, intergenerational poverty, family violence, crime, homelessness and poor mental and/or physical health, to name the more obvious ones.

Two of the ‘stars’ of the show – ice addict Corey Kennedy, who stole from his own dad to feed his habit, and Billie Joe Wilkie, filmed smoking a bong with her mum while heavily pregnant – pro vided the most tut-tutting opportunities for the commentariat and ensured it was not necessary to have watched the show beyond these allegedly emblematic moments to have a very strong opinion about it. Billie Joe in particular incurred the wrath of an otherwise un likely coalition of right-wing old men and the prominent blogger Mia Freedman, who then applauded social services for taking the baby (her third) away.1

Struggle Street was controversial before the first episode even aired thanks to a bombastic promotional advertisement so overflowing with stereotypes about a divided Sydney – postcard beaches and glamorous denizens in the east, police sirens and dysfunctional inhabitants in the west – it was clearly designed to provoke both outrage and interest. And so it came to pass. The Mayor of Blacktown Stephen Bali led the charge with his accusation that Struggle Street was nothing more than “publicly funded poverty porn”.2 He demanded SBS pull the promo and the entire series from the air, approached then-Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to do so, started an online petition at in which, on behalf of some of the participants of the show, he accused the producers of unethical conduct, and led a highly publicised garbage truck protest outside SBS headquarters. As a “gesture of goodwill”, SBS arranged for the advertisement to be pulled from the schedule, but not even the threat of a defamation case stopped the show from going on.3 The first episode attracted a whopping 1.31 million viewers, easily winning the timeslot everywhere, and giving SBS its highest ratings since the 2014 Football World Cup.4

By sheer volume of media commentary, Struggle Street went head-to-head with the likes of The Bachelor, while easily surpassing its commercial rivals in terms of the range of opinions on offer. Seasoned opinion writers, serious and tabloid journalists, past and present residents, state and federal politicians and thousands of others on social media offered their views on whether or not they agreed with Mayor Bali’s ‘poverty porn’ assessment.

At one extreme, tabloid newspaper The Daily Telegraph, in an audacious feat of hypocrisy, considering their own history of targeting ‘dole bludgers’ and ‘welfare cheats’, (especially those from Western Sydney) to sell papers, revealed financial and personal details about Leonie Lowe, head of KEO Films Australia, producers of the series, and SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid (including about his “younger boyfriend”). This was presumably to demonstrate how these Darlinghurst dwellers on “easy street” each profited from ‘porn’ at the expense of the poor and the taxpayers of Australia.5

At the other end, many critics and viewers responded positively to the first episode, assessing it as essential and sobering viewing about an oft-neglected segment of Australian society. The word ‘resilience’ popped up a lot to describe the people in the show and at the hashtag #strugglestreet, some viewers asked how they could help assist the service providers in the area.6 Cultural critic Steve Dow expressed in his review of the first episode what became a common response: the “misjudged promo moment”, with its sneering snippets of local colour, including one of the participants farting on his verandah, did not do justice to the “extraordinary group of subjects” profiled.7 Dow’s condemnation of the heavy-handed narration was also widely shared, by opponents and supporters alike.

The term ‘poverty porn’ has been around for some decades now, but as this sample of commentary demonstrates, it was Struggle Street that brought it into mainstream conversation in Australia. Given this, and also Mount Druitt’s own special place in the history of representing disadvantage in Australia, Struggle Street – its genesis, content and reception – offers an ideal case study through which to ponder ‘poverty porn’. What work does the category do as a form of critique? Has it become lazy shorthand? Does it expand or short-circuit analysis? There is no consensus about the term ‘poverty porn’ nor is there an authoritative definition or key theorist. It is an evolving critique that picks up all sorts of new criteria and inflections along the way. For Mayor Bali, for example, it was the publicly funded nature of Struggle Street that especially irked – surely public money would be better off assisting the poor rather than lampooning them on television? Many others agreed, as Struggle Street was singled out as the latest and most odious iteration of SBS’s populist turn. I will return to these questions, but first let’s consider the case for and against Struggle Street as poverty porn, including a recap of its alleged pornographic features.


“That’s how some folks do it in the Druitt”, drawled Field in the opening episode, as the cameras panned over neglected front lawns, graffiti-lashed buildings and public spaces full of the jobless or underemployed, idling about because there’s nothing better to do. This is not the Sydney “in the tourist brochures”, life is often a “dead-set struggle” and lives move “two steps forward and one step back”.

At the heart of the series are the blended Kennedy family. Father Ashley is a former truckie on the disability pension after many health crises and his loving wife Peta has quit her good job to look after him. Between them, they have ten adult children, seven on the dole, including Tristan who has never properly recovered from a brain injury acquired in a motorbike accident, teenager Chloe who has epilepsy and Asperger’s and has been so bullied it has led to suicidal thoughts, and Corey who is “on the ice”. There are eighteen grandchildren, including Corey’s toddler son Liam with girlfriend Shantelle. During the course of the series – filmed over six months – Corey descends deeper into addiction, steals from and fights with his dad, Ashley’s sister dies before her time and much to Peta’s despair, Ashley is diagnosed with early stage dementia.

However, not all is grim for the Kennedys: throughout, the family remain loving, with Ashley and Peta taking in Shantelle and Liam when Corey’s drug use becomes intolerable. Tristan returns to Mount Druitt High to caution students about the dangers of driving without a helmet and manages to find a part time job, while Chloe receives an apology from one of her former bullies and together they turn her ordeal into a rap song.

In the first episode Ashley and his mate Tony, AKA ‘The Wog’, are depicted scrounging for scraps in the local streets and then blowing most of their earnings, sixty dollars, on a junk food binge in Seven Eleven – or so it seemed. Ashley, in one of a series of widely publicised corrections, later told the press he kept his money for essentials for his large family and it was the camera crew who paid for the meat pies.8

Shortly after that episode screened, Peta told women’s magazine New Idea that the show “totally and cruelly humiliated my husband” and “caused so much heartache and drama … we had no idea we were going to be portrayed this way”.9 By the third episode – in which Chloe performed her rap song – Peta spoke more positively to the press about the series and hoped the episode sent out a strong anti-bullying message.10

We also follow scrappy sixteen-year old Bailee, transient since age 13, after her stepfather violently attacked her and her mum threw her out. Bailee, we soon discover, has also been raped, has a history of depression, self-harm and drug abuse and was only recently released from a stint in hospital. From this rock bottom, Bailee picks herself up, with a little help from a new friend. She is offered counsel and shelter by take-charge Erin, a young single mum who accompanies Bailee to her last residence, a shit-sauce-urine stained Housing Commission townhouse to pick up her things.

Their blossoming friendship is warmly portrayed and some critics singled out Erin as an especially inspiring figure. Still, Erin accused the producers of misleading her about the style of documentary – when first approached in a local park she was told the creators hoped to counter Mount Druitt’s ‘bad name’ – and labelled the outcome “disgusting”.11 When lawyers from high-profile legal firm Shine offered to represent some of the residents pro bono in a defamation suit against SBS, it was the producers’ alleged breach of ‘duty of care’ obligations to under age Bailee that they singled out for special attention.12

William, an Aboriginal man who has lived in Mount Druitt for over twenty-five years, is also homeless when first introduced. No longer welcome with his mob in the area, he’s getting by with his sling shot skills and sleeping rough on the rural fringes. When William shares his recipe for cooking up birds in an Italian sauce, he provides a straightforward set of instructions that were nonetheless subtitled, as if in a curious mash up of cooking show and anthropological documentary. Estranged from his two sons, William represents him self as a man caught between two cultures and speculates he may have been better off before invasion. William has no identification and as his story develops, he applies for his birth certificate so that he can find his mother. For former New South Wales Labor Premier and lifelong ‘westie’ Nathan Rees, one of several commentators with ‘insider’ knowledge who praised the series during its short season, “intrepid” and “resilient” William’s story was an especially “poignant” one.13

By episodes two and three, Rees had far less patience for 47 year-old Bob, one time heroin addict and recent ice user, and his much younger girlfriend Billie Jo, pregnant with her third child. Initially the viewer – not to mention Bob – assumes it’s his baby. Later we’re not so sure. By the time Billie Jo goes into premature labour, smoking a cigarette to take the edge off the pain, we’ve already seen her and Bob trying to break into a housemate’s room to find a missing piece for their bong and of course “the Horrifying Scene that shocked Australia!”, to quote the website of 2Day FM.14 In a scene destined to go down in observational documentary history, Billie Jo sits on the toilet toting on her home made bong while her mum Carline counsels her about quitting ice and “only smoking cones from now on” for the sake of the baby. We’ve also learned that Billie Jo was born addicted to methadone, that her brother died of a drug overdose, her sister of motor neurone disease at age 30, that her father is a schizophrenic and that Bob has a tragic backstory too: his wife Caron has been living in a nursing home since suffering an aneurysm. Billie Jo’s baby boy, like his two siblings, is taken into care shortly after he’s born.

By the time the ‘bong’ episode aired, Billie Jo’s mum had left the family for another man and Billie Jo was in remand for shoplifting and driving charges and for missing multiple court appearances. The Australian edition of the salacious British tabloid The Daily Mail, a long-time purveyor of poverty porn, relayed the details of Billie Jo’s imprisonment in faux-sympathetic detail in a series of features saturated with negative images of Mount Druitt. Because of her notoriety, reported the Daily Mail, Billie Jo was locked up in the segregation section of Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre with some of the “worst female murderers and baby killers” in Australia.15 In an interview with Billie Jo, the reporter also assured readers that the Daily Mail offered no payment to her other than a McDonalds’ meal she had requested.16

The final story arc in Struggle Street was a more promising one. Perennial foster kid Chris, now in his twenties, was living with his aunt, had finally managed to land a regular job, as a cleaner in a rugby league club, and had reunited his aunt with her twin, his mentally ill mum. Chris’ struggles had hardly stopped altogether; after all he suffers from at least a handful of mental health issues and daily endures lengthy commutes to get to his low paid job, a familiar grind for outer suburban workers. But he tries and, after the bong scene generated a second wave of backlash against the series, many viewers and critics latched onto Chris as an exemplar of self-care and improvement.

These affirmations for Chris’ great strides, coupled with the vitriolic blasts against Billie Jo, fall into the ‘deserving versus undeserving poor’ paradigm. They also fuelled the arguments of opponents to the Struggle Street approach to representing poverty, whereby overcoming it is an individual triumph or failing and little effort is made to understand disadvantage at a deeper, structural level. Struggle Street, wrote El Gibbs in Overland, “is without context, leaving particular families to wear the blame for being poor”.17 Gibbs, like others concerned Struggle Street trivialised rather than illuminated poverty, buttressed her critique with details from the Australian Council of Social Services’ (ACOSS) 2014 Poverty in Australia report. This strategy was also employed by Federal Shadow Assistant Treasurer Dr Andrew Leigh, who tried to re-direct the debate away from the charge of poverty porn to the bare facts of “deep and entrenched poverty in a prosperous country”.18

However, while Struggle Street provided some hook and colour to otherwise statistic-laden reports buried in corners of newspapers, and new material for regular spokespeople on inequality in Australia such as Senator Leigh, more immediately confronting for most were the actual people on the screen. Did they properly ‘represent’ Mount Druitt? Did they consent and if so under what terms? What were the ethical obligations of the producers? Is the viewer a voyeur for devouring this as entertainment? In other words, is Struggle Street poverty porn?


The advertisement for Struggle Street was definitely poverty porn, said nearly every commentator: it sensationalised the lives of Mount Druitt locals to the point of ridicule to entice people to watch. It upset some of the participants, who claimed to have been misled and misrepresented. So far, so very poverty porn, but for some the series itself was a trickier proposition. As discussed, once the whole series went to air, or at least the first episode, many viewers were drawn in by the people on the screen and their stories and the cheap tricks of the promo were forgiven or at least dismissed as a badly pitched or deceptive stunt. Consensus around what poverty porn is broke down and more often than not the use of the term was qualified.

For The Guardian’s Gay Alcorn, the onus was on the viewer: Struggle Street would only become poverty porn “if we have a look, kind of enjoy being sad and shocked, and then turn away to other things”. As a journalist, she confessed that poverty in its humdrum statistical detail – 2.5 million Australians live below the poverty line, according to welfare groups – does not make for an interesting story. Struggle Street manages to shock because it pushes “what being marginalised feels like … in our faces”.19

Jane Goodall, TV writer for Inside Story, also stopped short of the poverty porn label, but questioned the motivations of the series’ creators rather than its viewers. She detailed a whole list of serious ethical problems, from not giving participants an opportunity to preview and endorse how they were represented to manipulative editing techniques to issues of informed consent from vulnerable people, including minors who had recently attempted suicide (Bailee) or were suffering from cognitive impairment (Tristan). The subjects of Struggle Street and similar series, wrote Goodall, are unpaid labour feeding the profits of international media corporations.20 On these last grounds Goodall’s critique supports academic Steven Threadgold’s definition of poverty porn as producing “abjectifying images of the poor through a privileged gaze for privileged gratification”.21

As Threadgold’s definition highlights, exploitation of the poor for the purposes of profit and/or entertainment – which may be well intentioned or at least presented that way – is what is said to mark out some representations of poverty as pornographic. Using this basic criterion, critics have traced a poverty porn tradition, dating back to the 1980s and the widespread use of images of starving African children with swollen bellies to generate sympathy (and donations) in the developed world for victims of Third World famine. More recently, the 2009 Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire has been accused of trivialising life in India’s slums to make a feel-good box office hit, while a whole glut of post global financial crisis TV shows focusing on poor parts of Britain and the United States have been lambasted as patronising and as misleadingly badged as documentaries rather than the less noble genre of reality television.

Across all of these examples, poverty porn is identified as much by what it does not do as what it does: World Vision campaigns represent Africa monolithically and its inhabitants as poor, suffering victims with famine as a calamity that has befallen the region, much like a natural disaster, rather than the outcome of global geo-politics and western hegemony. Slumdog Millionaire, meanwhile, was accused of recycling ancient stereotypes about India at the expense of proper engagement with its postcolonial present – and even worse, the film was directed by Danny Boyle: a white, British man.22 As for the likes of Benefits Street, the high-rating British documentary series set in Birmingham that screened in the UK in early 2014, critics have argued that the creators of such shows, which typically capture the more sensationalised aspects of welfare dependence (one episode featured a demonstration of how to shoplift), feed into the anti-welfare campaigns of conservative governments rather than challenge them. Indeed, Benefits Street was raised as evidence by Conservative MPs in the House of Commons of the urgent need for welfare reform in austerity Britain.

Using Benefits Street as an example, in an analysis pertinent to Struggle Street, sociologist Tracey Jensen has argued that poverty porn is now also a highly orchestrated media event that typically begins with producers denying their work is any such thing, but is instead a ‘raw’ and ‘honest’ portrayal of a neglected segment of society. With the terms of discourse thus established, poverty porn reproduces itself in the hothouse of fast media. Under the auspices of ‘debate’, the usual suspects and the occasional interloper – though rarely, Jensen laments, any social scientists – “comment on representations as if they were real”.23 Jensen sees no political utility in this cycle whatsoever, except of course for politicians eager to appropriate poverty porn as fact.

Struggle Street certainly conformed to this template, at least in broad terms, and this was hardly surprising considering the producers. While only the second locally produced series for KEO Films Australia – the first was the thoroughly pleasant lifestyle series River Cottage Australia – their British parent company was responsible for Skint, a documentary series set in a housing estate in Scunthorpe, once a thriving industrial town and now full of the long-term unemployed, that first aired in Britain in 2013. The producers of Skint and Struggle Street made similar claims about their motivations – putting on screen the human faces and stories of “our most socially-disadvantaged communities”24 – and each spent time in their chosen suburbs, establishing a feel for the place and most importantly finding locals “who had stories to tell”.25

Like Skint, Struggle Street also featured an irritating voice-over, intergenerational welfare dependence and a pregnant young woman / new mother with drug problems whose behaviour was singled out for extra special scrutiny and judgement in the seemingly bottomless pit of divided commentary both series generated.

Yet while Skint and Struggle Street shared much in common in terms of content and as media event, it would sell any analysis of Struggle Street short to represent it as merely derivative of a British phenomenon. As media event, Struggle Street both expanded and narrowed definitions of poverty porn. The expansion came courtesy of closer inspection of this term and new criteria to either claim or disqualify Struggle Street from this genre. Yet as case study, Struggle Street was only occasionally referenced in relation to the recent poverty porn explosion on UK television or the longer history of the term. This is because the term poverty porn provided for some a pithy name to describe historic and enduring negative representations of Sydney’s western suburbs and Mount Druitt in particular.


When Stephen Bali accused the creators of Struggle Street and SBS of peddling poverty porn he did so as the mayor of a region that has long been shorthand for disadvantage and dysfunction. In a debate with SBS content director Helen Kellie on ABC’s Lateline, Bali said the show had left the people of Mount Druitt “devastated” and that it stigmatised the whole of Western Sydney – again. “This stereotype, we’re over it and it shouldn’t happen”.26

Mount Druitt’s notoriety in the national imaginary dates back to at least 1981 and the hyperbolic coverage of the ‘Bidwell riot’, that allegedly began when a fight between two female students from rival high schools attracted a tabloid-reported crowd of a thousand teenagers. The ‘riot’ was purportedly spurred along by enterprising journalists eager to generate a sensationalist story from a schoolyard brawl.27

In the mid-1990s, Mount Druitt’s teenagers again attracted negative national attention when the Daily Telegraph ran a cover story, featuring school photographs of the entire year-twelve graduating class, under the headline ‘The Class We Failed’. It is a story that has been revisited by other media outlets ever since, most recently in coverage of the launch of the MySchool website that first made public school performance and rankings in 2010.28

Using the Bidwell example as paradigmatic, historian Mark Peel in his important study of poverty in Australia, The Lowest Rung (2003), traced how “poverty news and poverty knowledge”, whether generated by “sojourning” journalists or social scientists, relies on an established repertoire of tropes that even when ostensibly well-intentioned have real-world and sometimes damaging effects.29 In the immediate aftermath of the so-called riots, for instance, Mount Druitt residents were subject to increased bureaucratic surveillance, while negative stereotypes about Sydney’s western suburbs were further entrenched. The stigma of coming from Mount Druitt has also been identified by some residents, including former students of the ‘class that failed’, as personally and professionally damaging.30

The flipside to this history of negative portrayals about Mount Druitt has been resistance, whether specifically targeted (in 1997, The Daily Telegraph were successfully sued for defamation) or through proud assertions of local or ‘westie’ identity. Among the creative re sponses to Struggle Street were the garbage truck workers who, according to Mayor Bali, put their hands up to protest at the ‘garbage’ on television and a YouTube series called Made in Mount Druitt comissioned by Street University, a program run by the Ted Noffs Foundation, and designed to celebrate local talent.

The media also had no trouble finding locals ready to criticise the slant of the documentary. Local TAFE students complained to The Daily Telegraph that Struggle Street showed all of the bad and little of the good of Mount Druitt and “made everyone look like idiots”,31 while the audience special episode of Q & A was jam packed with locals and their advocates – including well-spoken high school students, exasperated service providers and of course Mayor Bali – highly critical of the series’ all-too-familiar portrayal of their suburb. Here too the features of poverty porn were further elaborated. One of the panellists, playwright Nakkiah Lui, who grew up in Mount Druitt, while sympathetic to some aspects, argued that the team behind Struggle Street crossed the line into poverty porn by not allowing their subjects to actively participate in how their stories were told.32

Not all Mount Druitt locals – or westies or housing commission tenants or others with claims to insider knowledge – objected to Struggle Street. Declarations of recognition and emphatic endorsements of its authenticity were common among the thousands of online comments, as were second opinions and mixed feelings. Some of the team behind Street Uni’s Made in Mount Druitt campaign for instance tempered their initial negative reactions to the promo once they saw the show.33 The terms of the poverty porn debate work against such ambiguity and rely on the generation of strong emotions, but the effects are not always predictable or stable.

Over half a year later, the longer term consequences of Struggle Street’s ratings success are most apparent in the decision by SBS to commission another series in another poverty-stricken part of urban Australia, thus emulating the Once Upon A Time In [a notorious multicultural suburb] format. Yet for a week or so back in May 2015, it seemed the series had pushed inequality and disadvantage to the centre of national conversation. In this regard, Struggle Street was Zeitgeist television, airing in the wake of the 2014 ‘lifters and leaners’ Federal budget, widely regarded as the most inequitable in recent history, and in the midst of a purported ice epidemic and a verifiable housing crisis. Struggle Street addressed these issues, and more, but it did so in a sometimes exploitative fashion to a historically scapegoated community. By choosing Mount Druitt, the producers – the local branch of a production company at the vanguard of British poverty porn – knew exactly what they were doing.

As poverty porn, then, Struggle Street hit all its targets. It generated outrage, opposition and huge ratings. The creators, under the guise of myth busting, made over a million people watch and when we did many of us were compelled and even moved by what we saw. At its best, Struggle Street generated insight and empathy: an ice addict in the family could happen to any of us! At its worst, the producers piled up Billie Jo’s transgressions and threw her to the wolves. As critique, poverty porn sometimes provided the perfect vocabulary to respond to all of this, but by encouraging commentators to declare their hand – Struggle Street is utter rubbish and SBS should be defunded or Struggle Street is not porn, it’s ‘real’ – the charge left little room for ambivalence and uncertainty. Finally, as framework, poverty porn reminds us the Australian media still has no idea about how to manage or receive stories about the underclass. Observational documentary aims to humanise its subjects, but ‘us’ and ‘them’ remains the dominant mode of talking about poverty in Australia, no matter what the statistics are trying to tell us: inequality is growing and its right here.


1Mia Freedman, ‘The biggest problem with the pregnant bong scene on Struggle Street’, Mamamia, 14 May 2015,

2‘Struggle Street: garbage truck protest against SBS “poverty porn” documentary, ABC News, 6 May 2015,

3Georgina Mitchell, ‘Struggle Street backlash: SBS pulls promo advertisement’, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 2015,

4Michael Lallo, ‘Struggle Street sets record ratings for an SBS documentary, with 1.31 million viewers’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 2015,

5Janet Fife-Yeomans and Miles Godfrey, ‘Struggle Street: SBS Chief Michael Ebeid lives a very different life to those profiled by the controversial series’, The Daily Telegraph, 6 May 2015,

6Caroline Overington, ‘Important viewing or Poverty Porn? Struggle Street surprises viewers’, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 7 May 2015,

7Steve Dow, ‘Struggle Street review – must-see TV, undersold by sensationalism’, The Guardian, 6 May 2015,

8Jane Bowron, ‘Hard Lives and Blurred Truths in Struggle Street’,, 28 August 2015,

9‘Struggle Street Mum Peta Kennedy says SBS documentary “has ripped us apart”’,, May 11 2015,

10Alison Balding and Danielle Jarvis, ‘Strong Anti-Bully message emerges from SBS’s Struggle Street’, 15 May 2015,

11Alison Balding, ‘Struggle Street stars prepare for show’s final instalment’, 13 May 2015,

12Taylor Auerbach, ‘Struggle Street: Featured Western Sydney locals set to sue SBS over their portrayal’, 8 May 2015,

13Nathan Rees, ‘Education is the key to turning Struggle Street around’, The Drum, 18 May 2015,

14We Guy Josh, ‘The Horrifying Scene that Shocked Australia!’, 14 May 2015,

15Candace Sutton and Heather McNab, ‘From Struggle Street to Australia’s Toughest Female Prison’, 19 May 2015,

16Candace Sutton, Sally Lee and Emily Crane, ‘Born addicted to methadone’, The Daily Mail, 6 May 2015,

17El Gibbs, ‘Struggling with the Facts’, Overland, 12 May 2015,

18Gareth Hutchins, ‘SBS’s Struggle Street controversy missed the point, says Labor frontbencher’, 20 May 2015,

19Gay Alcorn, ‘Struggle Street is only poverty porn if we enjoy watching then turn away’, 15 May 2015,

20Jane Goodall, ‘An Ethical Tightrope Across Struggle Street’, 8 May 2015,

21Steven Threadgold, ‘Struggle Street is Poverty Porn with an extra dose of class racism’, 6 May 2015,

22Slumdog Millionaire has the most contested position in the poverty porn canon – it is a fictional film, the producers have provided some monetary support to local participants and it has been argued that its plucky child protagonists have far more agency than the docile African children awaiting rescue in development porn. For a comparative discussion of poverty porn see Matt Collin, ‘What is “poverty porn” and what does it mean for development?’, Aid Thoughts, 1 July 2009,

23Tracey Jensen, ‘Welfare Commonsense, Poverty Porn and Doxosophy’, Sociological Research Online, Vol. 19, No. 3, p.3, April 2014, DOI: 10.5153/sro.3441, 3.3.

25Nigel F, ‘Skint producer explains why they chose Scunthorpe’, 20 May 2013,

26Lindy Kerin and Thuy Ong, ‘Struggle Street: Mount Druitt community up in arms over ‘poverty porn’ documentary series on SBS’, ABC News 6 May 2015,

27Mark Peel, The Lowest Rung: Voices of Australian Poverty, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2003, pp.17–21.

28Jessica Mahar, ‘Painful Memories of Mount Druitt’s maligned class of ’96’, 29 January 2010,

29Peel, The Lowest Rung, p.16.

30George Morgan, ‘A Tale of Two Cities: Distinction, Dispersal and Disassociation in Western Sydney’, in After Sprawl: Post-Suburban Sydney: E-Proceedings of the ‘Post-Suburban Sydney: The City in Transformation’ Conference, 2005, pp.1–9.

31Taylor Auerbach, ‘Struggle Street: Featured Western Sydney Locals set to sue SBS over portrayal’, 8 May 2015,

32Q & A: Struggle Street on Budget Eve, broadcast 11 May 2015,

33Nick Galvin, ‘Struggle Street: DJ Zehrish Naera putting a fresh spin on Mount Druitt’, 14 May 2015,

Small Screens

   by Michelle Arrow, Jeannine Baker and Clare Monagle